Wars sending U.S. into ruin Obama the peace president is fighting battles his country cannot afford By ERIC MARGOLIS, QMI AGENCY
U.S. President Barack Obama calls the $3.8-trillion US budget he just sent to Congress a major step in restoring America’s economic health.
In fact, it’s another potent fix given to a sick patient deeply addicted to the dangerous drug — debt.
More empires have fallen because of reckless finances than invasion. The latest example was the Soviet Union, which spent itself into ruin by buying tanks.
Washington’s deficit (the difference between spending and income from taxes) will reach a vertiginous $1.6 trillion US this year. The huge sum will be borrowed, mostly from China and Japan, to which the U.S. already owes $1.5 trillion. Debt service will cost $250 billion.
To spend $1 trillion, one would have had to start spending $1 million daily soon after Rome was founded and continue for 2,738 years until today.
Obama’s total military budget is nearly $1 trillion. This includes Pentagon spending of $880 billion. Add secret black programs (about $70 billion); military aid to foreign nations like Egypt, Israel and Pakistan; 225,000 military “contractors” (mercenaries and workers); and veterans’ costs. Add $75 billion (nearly four times Canada’s total defence budget) for 16 intelligence agencies with 200,000 employees.
The Afghanistan and Iraq wars ($1 trillion so far), will cost $200-250 billion more this year, including hidden and indirect expenses. Obama’s Afghan “surge” of 30,000 new troops will cost an additional $33 billion — more than Germany’s total defence budget.
No wonder U.S. defence stocks rose after Peace Laureate Obama’s “austerity” budget.
Military and intelligence spending relentlessly increase as unemployment heads over 10% and the economy bleeds red ink. America has become the Sick Man of the Western Hemisphere, an economic cripple like the defunct Ottoman Empire.
The Pentagon now accounts for half of total world military spending. Add America’s rich NATO allies and Japan, and the figure reaches 75%.
China and Russia combined spend only a paltry 10% of what the U.S. spends on defence.
There are 750 U.S. military bases in 50 nations and 255,000 service members stationed abroad, 116,000 in Europe, nearly 100,000 in Japan and South Korea.
Military spending gobbles up 19% of federal spending and at least 44% of tax revenues. During the Bush administration, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — funded by borrowing — cost each American family more than $25,000.
Like Bush, Obama is paying for America’s wars through supplemental authorizations — putting them on the nation’s already maxed-out credit card. Future generations will be stuck with the bill.
This presidential and congressional jiggery-pokery is the height of public dishonesty. America’s wars ought to be paid for through taxes, not bookkeeping fraud. If U.S. taxpayers actually had to pay for the Afghan and Iraq wars, these conflicts would end in short order. America needs a fair, honest war tax.
The U.S. clearly has reached the point of imperial overreach. Military spending and debt-servicing are cannibalizing the U.S. economy, the real basis of its world power. Besides the late U.S.S.R., the U.S. also increasingly resembles the dying British Empire in 1945, crushed by immense debts incurred to wage the Second World War, unable to continue financing or defending the imperium, yet still imbued with imperial pretensions.
It is increasingly clear the president is not in control of America’s runaway military juggernaut. Sixty years ago, the great President Dwight Eisenhower, whose portrait I keep by my desk, warned Americans to beware of the military-industrial complex. Six decades later, partisans of permanent war and world domination have joined Wall Street’s money lenders to put America into thrall.
Increasing numbers of Americans are rightly outraged and fearful of runaway deficits. Most do not understand their political leaders are also spending their nation into ruin through unnecessary foreign wars and a vainglorious attempt to control much of the globe — what neocons call “full spectrum dominance.”
If Obama really were serious about restoring America’s economic health, he would demand military spending be slashed, quickly end the Iraq and Afghan wars and break up the nation’s giant Frankenbanks.
Eric Margolis Interview (Part 1 of 3)
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. And joining us now from Toronto, Canada, is Eric Margolis. He’s a journalist who’s covered Afghanistan, Kashmir, South Africa. He’s the author of the book American Raj. You can find more about his work at EricMargolis.com. And he’s an accomplished international correspondent. Thanks for joining us, Eric.
ERIC MARGOLIS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: Nice to be back, Paul.
JAY: A recent article you wrote is called “War sending US into ruin”. Why do you think so? Why is war sending the US into ruin?
MARGOLIS: President Obama said we desperately need to embark on austerity measures. He’s formed a commission to cut spending. The US is in effect bankrupt. It owes about $1.5 trillion to China and Japan. It has almost 20 percent unemployment. I mean, it’s on the skids. It is essential to the US to cut spending, and the first place is the hugely bloated Pentagon and national security defense budget.
JAY: Well, you say the first place, but clearly in Washington it’s the last place.
MARGOLIS: It’s untouchable. It is the biggest sacred cow. And even the American public doesn’t support this view. But, you know, you can’t have guns and butter, and, unfortunately, the current administration wants both.
JAY: Alright. Well, let me cite some of the numbers you give in your article. In a budget that he’s sending for 2011, a $3.8 trillion budget, the cost of the military is going to be close to quarter of that, almost $1 trillion. The military budget now includes spending like the basic Pentagon budget of about $880 billion; its estimated secret black programs that are not publicly on the Pentagon pages, $70 billion; military aid to Egypt, to Israel, and Columbia; military contractors, which are perhaps another 225,000, and it may even be higher than that, though it’s not always clear how many there are; 16 intelligence agencies with over 200,000 people come in at about $75 billion; Afghan and Iraq wars, which have already cost about $1 trillion, running at about $200-$250 billion a year; the escalation in Afghanistan with another 30,000 troops could add another $33 billion. That’s a lot of money that’s a sacred cow.
MARGOLIS: It certainly is. I mean, the United States spends half of the world’s total military spending. When you look, you add Russia and China, the only possible conceivable adversaries in a war with the United States right now—India might be down the road at some point, but today these two great powers, their defense spending adds up to peanuts compared to the United States’. It’s absolutely ludicrous. The United States has 58 major bases abroad, a quarter of a million troops—.
JAY: And perhaps as many as 700 to 1,000 bases in total abroad.
MARGOLIS: That’s right, large and small. But the US is maintaining the same status posture that the British Empire did, which controlled 25 percent of the world’s surface. But the US can’t afford this imperial stance anymore. And it’s crazy. Against whom is the United States defending? Well, it used to be against the Soviets. Now it’s against the Muslims. Take away the Muslims, and the Pentagon would have nothing to do. So—.
JAY: Well, if you read Brzezinski’s book The Grand Chessboard, he gives an argument why all this is necessary, and essentially it is that without US acting as the global policeman, if you will, the alternative is global anarchy—and he uses that phrase a lot, that the US becomes this sort of arbiter of conflicts amongst countries, that many, many elites in many countries only maintain, you know, stability with the knowledge that there’s a US base not too far away. What do you make of that argument? Because I think in both Republican and Democratic parties, that’s the rationale, that we stand between world disorder, and that’s why we have to spend all this money.
MARGOLIS: That’s correct. I’m just reading a book published in the 1950s about the British Empire, British imperialism. It’s very interesting. And he’s citing 1886 or something like that in Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier, and the British are saying exactly the same thing. They’re saying, “What happens if we withdraw our garrisons? It’ll be anarchy; the tribes will fall on each other. Who will defend Peshawar?” The Soviet Union had the exact same argument about Eastern Europe and about the caucuses. There is some truth to it, no doubt about it, but I don’t think America was created or is being run to be the worldwide master of the universe. Can’t afford to do it anyway. And it’s not a very true argument, because look at all the unrest that’s going on in the world today with America as the sole world power. In fact, I think there was greater stability when you had the Soviet Union around, to have had a bipolar world rather than this single world empire.
JAY: Now, that’s something coming from Eric Margolis, who was reporting on the jihad with some enthusiasm in Afghanistan and rather happy at the demise of the Soviet Union at the time.
MARGOLIS: I was indeed. But it has taken away a balance from the international arena. I wish we’d had a more benign—nothing—very little good to say about the Soviet Union, except it was like a big rock on the scale of world power. And the minute the Soviet Union collapsed, the US became, ultimately, corrupted by ultimate power and went on its own period of imperial expansion.
JAY: Well, let me give you a kind of counterargument you might hear from the Obama administration. Now, this is not any public reason why they’re in Afghanistan, but if you talk to some people non-publicly, they would say we’re very concerned about the unraveling of Pakistan, we’re very concerned about tension between Pakistan and India, and one of the things that only the US can do in Afghanistan is try to manage the situation in a way that there’s a kind of political structure government that doesn’t tilt too much towards India and still pleases Pakistan, and only the Americans can do this.
MARGOLIS: Paul, excuse me for sounding cynical, but at my age I’m allowed to do that. The US cannot manage affairs in Pakistan. It cannot manage the US government. It cannot manage affairs in incredibly complex Afghanistan. It can’t even manage the US postal office, which is losing money hand over stamps. Look at the great job Washington did in Iraq, creating an unbelievable mess for which we’re still paying. So this again is a specious imperialist argument that has no water whatsoever.
JAY: Now, in the Democratic Party, the tradition that President Obama positioned himself as, whenever asked about where he is on foreign policy, he would always start with Truman, and he would talk about being in the traditional US pragmatic foreign policy. He would go from Truman. He would even include Bush senior. At times he’d include Reagan. What is this outlook of the world that sees this sort of democratic mission, which is shared by both parties?
MARGOLIS: There’s safety in number with past presidents, for sure. And there is a strong internationalist, imperialist impulse in the Democratic Party, as well as the Republican; it’s just not as strong. But, you know, take Afghanistan. The United States, by entering the war in Afghanistan, has created the current mess in Pakistan and has turned the whole 170 million Pakistanis against the United States. And now the US is saying, well, if we withdraw, there’ll be a mess in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We created it. The best way to end these messes, dangerous ones, is for the US to withdraw. I think if Harry Truman had been president, he would have said, get your troops the hell out of there and let’s shut down this war before we sink any deeper into the morass.
JAY: Well, in the next segment of our interview let’s talk about the politics of taking on the military-industrial complex. Why is this enormous budget such a sacred cow? Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Eric Margolis on The Real News Network.